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The BBC's Colin Blane
"It has finally happened for Silvio Berlusconi"
 real 56k

On the Europe Today programme:
journalists Luc Van Der Kelen from Belgium and Annaliese Rohrer from Vienna debate how the EU should respond
 real 28k

The BBC's Katya Adler
"Some of Mr Berlusconi's critics have said that he may have a magnetic personality but a paper thin programme of government"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 May, 2001, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Berlusconi returns to power
Queues of voters in Naples
Voting went on hours after the election was due to end
The centre-right coalition led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi has gained enough votes to form a government, with nearly all the Italian general election results now in.

The results point to a comfortable margin in the lower house and to a narrower victory in the upper house, the Senate.

Some results took hours longer than expected to come in, as the vote was marred by chaotic scenes late into the night. Some voters tore up their ballot slips because of long queues at polling booths.

Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Berlusconi's media interests alarm many

It is likely that Mr Berlusconi will have to rely on his more radical right-wing ally - Umberto Bossi of the Northern League - to stay in power.

Mr Berlusconi wanted to avoid that, since it was Mr Bossi's decision to withdraw support which brought down the billionaire tycoon's previous short-lived government seven years ago.

The interior ministry said Mr Berlusconi's House of Freedom bloc secured 163 seats in the 315-seat Senate, with 35 seats still to be counted.

In the 630-seat lower house, preliminary results gave the centre-right bloc 245 and the ruling centre-left Olive Tree coalition 158.

Statement

Mr Berlusconi's victory is expected to be formally confirmed soon and it is thought he will make a statement in Milan later on Monday.

The centre-left, led by former Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli, had a late surge of support, following predictions that Mr Berlusconi would win a landslide victory.

Italian prime ministers need the support of both houses of parliament to have a good chance of survival.

Polling chaos

The widespread chaos on election night sparked a row over the decision to reduce the number of polling stations from 90,000 to 60,000 - an apparent cost-cutting exercise.

Francesco Rutelli
Mr Rutelli highlighted Mr Berlusconi's right-wing allies

Election officials kept voting booths open for several hours after the official closing time, to allow long queues of people to cast their ballots.

The election followed the most bad-tempered campaign in recent Italian history.

At his final election rally, 64-year-old Mr Berlusconi accused his opponents of "lies and mudslinging".

They sought to highlight allegations of bribery, corruption and tax evasion that have seen Mr Berlusconi entangled in a string of court cases in recent years - none of the charges have stuck.

Spotlight on Berlusconi

In an unusual twist, leading European publication The Economist weighed in, describing Mr Berlusconi as "unfit to govern".

The election was seen as almost a referendum on Mr Berlusconi's personality and character.

Critics are alarmed that a victory would grant him effective control of state-run television, to add to the three private TV channels and other media outlets he owns.

The main political issues of the campaign were pensions, immigration and promises of tax cuts.

Northern League vote 'down'

Mr Berlusconi has had to juggle the demands of the five parties in his coalition.

One of the parties - Mr Bossi's Northern League - fared much worse than expected. Its anti-immigrant policies have led to comparisons with the right-wing Austrian Joerg Haider.

The Northern League vote is reported to have been slashed by half compared with the 1994 election results.

The complexities of voting are further added to by a voting system in which 75% of the seats in parliament's two chambers are awarded on a first-past-the-post system. The remaining 25% are allocated proportionally.

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See also:

14 May 01 | Europe
Temperatures rise in chaotic poll
10 May 01 | Europe
Italy gears up for close election
14 May 01 | Europe
Berlusconi promises 'Italy Inc'
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